Rasputin and the Empress (1932) Only Film Which Starred All 3 Barrymores
Starring Ethel, Lionel, and John Barrymore
Ralph Morgan, Diana Wynyard, and Edward Arnold
Directed By Richard Boleslavsky and Charles Brabin (uncredited)
IMDb - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023374/
Synopsis: When conventional medicine fails to cure the Russian Czarina's dying son, she calls in her trusted friend Rasputin, an eccentric monk with political ambitions on his mind and devious schemes up his sleeve. Mysteriously, Rasputin's mystical treatments revive the little Prince, who suffers from hemophilia. But under the holy man's care, the regal lad is distant and strange -- a puppet bewitched by the monk's hypnotic spell. Now that Rasputin has the royal family in the palm of his hand, the entire Romanov Dynasty will kneel at his feet. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rasputin_and_the_empress/
Good, bad or indifferent, this is the only movie in which all three Barrymore siblings appear together. Watching them try to out-act each other, one-up each other, and supporting each other's acting is what makes this movie - (watch for the scenes in which Lionel will deliberately play on the right side of the screen and to John's back, knowing full well John's best side was his left side profile!).
Yes, MGM distorts history with the screenplay - MGM did that alot with it's historical films, although MGM did use actual news film for some of the scenes. Yes, there were problems on the set - that happened alot on MGM sets, especially with high-caliber actors. In this movie, you see film history -
Ethel Barrymore's first talkie after having absented Hollywood for 13 years, her only starring role in a talkie, the original "It Girl" 13 years before the moniker was ever applied to Clara Bow; Lionel Barrymore, acting while riddled with pain - and continued to do so for many more years; John Barrymore, The Great Profile, the consummate Shakespearean actor. I do not think you will see finer performances than the brothers and sister acting together and supporting each other.
You can read good reviews of this movie - http://www.tcm.com/thismonth/article.jsp?cid=89000&mainArticleId=189011
You can read bad reviews of this movie - http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/40349/Rasputin-and-the-Empress/overview
Some good anecdotal information on this film is available at IMDb - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023374/trivia
There were several lawsuits associated with this film which kept it out of theatres for many years and resulted in many scenes being cut (some of these cuts being quite evident). These lawsuits also gave us the ubiquitous "Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead ...." Some history of the lawsuits can be found here - http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s27rasputin.html
and here - http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/40349/Rasputin-and-the-Empress/overview
The New York Times had several interesting articles written about this film in the 1930s which can be found here - http://www.time.com/time/searchresults/?N=0&Ntk=NoBody&Nty=1&Nr=OR%28p_record_type%3AArticle%2Cp_record_type%3Ablog%2Cp_record_type%3AOther%29&Ntt=rasputin+and+the+empress
The beginning of this movie has black borders. That is on purpose - that's the way the movie was made. The black borders are removed approximately 1 minute 40 seconds into the film. The black borders occur a few more times in the movie when title cards are shown but are also removed within a short period of time.